21/9/2013 – I will never forget this date.
For every bit of excitement you get in football, there’s the exact amount of frustration waiting in the pipelines.
A couple of years back – on this very exact date (21st September 2013), I flew to Kuching to cover the Malaysia Cup tie between Perak and Sarawak. I planned the trip in advance, simply because both teams were close to my heart (I was studying in Sarawak at that point).
It was billed as a key match – both sides needed a win to book their spot in the knockout rounds. Sarawak went into the game on the back of a frustrating away defeat in Singapore, losing 1-0 to LionsXII, while Perak’s inconsistency also meant that they desperately required an away win to progress.
But the moment I arrived at the stadium, a tingling sense of worry crept into my head. I was there four hours before kick off, and a large group of fans were already chanting on the sidelines of the stadium, waiting for the gates to be opened. The classic banner at the main entrance of Stadium Negeri loomed majestically. “Welcome to the Crocs’ Den” – it read.
The home fans had a reason to believe in their team as well. Despite going against a team in the Super League, their form in the Premier League that year was sensational. Spurred on by Bobby Gonzales’ terrific form, their clinched the title in fashionable style, finishing the season without a single defeat in the league.
To add to the drama, there was a minor controversy prior to kick off as the Perak coaching staff refused to greet their Sarawakian counterparts and that added intensity into what was already going to be an explosive affair. Within 6 minutes into the game, the home side were firing on all cylinders.
After Khairi Kiman’s unfortunate own-goal on the 5th minute mark – which to be fair, was largely influenced by Junior Eldstal – Sarawak added a second goal merely two minutes later through a fine finish from Bobby Gonzales. At this point, the crowd went wild. There was a look of disbelief amongst the Perak players and the technical staff looked pinned onto their seats on the sidelines.
Then came the moment of hope. Yong Kuong Yong scored to reduce the deficit and make it 2-1. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time, and as soon as I jumped up to celebrate, there was a defeaning silence in the media booth and I immediately realised that every single on the room, was fixated on me!
But you know, things never really got better either. Muamer Salibasic restored Sarawak’s two-goal lead just before half-time, complicating Azraai Khor’s half-time team talk. After the break though, it got worse. Zamri Morshidi’s fine header made it 4-1, before Salibasic made it 5-1 moments later. And just when you thought things couldn’t get worse for the away side, Salibasic completed his hat-rick, en route to helping the Crocs seal an emphatic victory that booked their spot in the quarter-finals of the tournament, for the first time in seven years.
The victory was a culmination of their consistency throughout the season. It was a season in which Junior Eldstal broke into the Malaysian football scene, Bobby Gonzales forged a lethal reputation for himself, Ronny Harun appeared to be a world beater, while Robert Alberts was validating the trust that the Sarawak FA folks had in him, despite getting relegated a year before that.
As for Perak, their frustrating season came to a crushing end, but not before they returned to Ipoh though. As soon as they touched down, Perak FA announced that they would be suspending all players and staff members temporarily under the pretext of match-fixing suspicions. The decision caused a major uproar, with quite a number of players expressing their frustrations publicly and though the suspension was eventually lifted, a huge number of players opted to leave the team.
The whole Perak team, including head coach Azraai Khor are suspended on match-fixing suspicion after 6-1 defeat against Sarawak. Incredible.
— Magnum (@ShahBahari) September 23, 2013
The likes of Shahrom Kalam – who is now Selangor’s skipper -, Shahrulnizam Mustapha, Farizal Marlias, S. Chanturu, Paulo Rangel all left in search of greener pastures. Even head coach Azraai Khor Abdullah tendered his resignation, opting to depart the side that he joined less than a year ago at that point.
That proved to be the last time Perak came across a force to be reckoned with, purely on paper. They are no pushovers these days, there are very few top-level players in their squad these days.
On a personal level, it was an experience I’ll never forget. Watching your favourite team win, is exciting and fun. But there’s a special novelty in watching your team get absolutely annihilated away from home. It teaches you humility. It teaches you respect.
Take a bow, Crocs. On that night, you reigned supreme.